When Chelsea paid a club-record £97.5 million to sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter last summer, it seemed like they had just secured the final piece of Thomas Tuchel’s puzzle.
Tuchel is to blame for Lukaku’s struggles at Chelsea
Romelu Lukaku has struggled at Chelsea since joining last summer, but Thomas Tuchel’s tactics may actually be responsible for that.
After all, the German tactician had just won the UEFA Champions League without an elite centre-forward, so it was only right to expect that the presence of one would bring even more success.
But over halfway into his return to Stamford Bridge, the Belgian striker has looked out of place and only managed 10 goals in 28 games across all competitions.
Chelsea manager, Thomas Tuchel certainly has an idea or two about why Lukaku has struggled, he linked the situation to Chelsea’s history with centre-forward flops in his pre-match press conference for the Champions League Round of 16 first leg against Lille.
'There's a history of strikers struggling at Chelsea. It is obviously not the easiest place to play. I'm not sure why it is.’ Tuchel said.
But there is enough evidence in Lukaku’s 28 games this season to believe Tuchel is not only wrong to imply the former Manchester United man is just another Chelsea flop, but that the German tactician is actually responsible for Lukaku’s struggles.
Chelsea needed an elite striker and they got one, but is there a point in paying that incredibly large amount for a player and then blatantly refusing to play to his strengths?
A 28-year old with 269 career goals mostly at the top level of football is definitely elite. He does have his shortcomings but it is ultimately up to the manager to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses, which is something Tuchel has not done at all.
To be fair to Tuchel, his set-up has proven foolproof, winning the Champions League within a few months of his appointment, so it is understandable that he is hesitant to make any tweaks simply to accommodate one player.
But if that one player cost just shy of a hundred million pound sterling, you do whatever it takes to get the best out of him. Tuchel ideally prefers to keep a very high line and control proceedings by pinning the opposition back in their own half.
That typically leaves little or no space for Lukaku to do what he does best, which is running at defenders in transition as we saw in his two years at Inter and in flashes for Chelsea.
There must have been a communication breakdown between the board and the coaching personnel because Tuchel’s system requires a striker who is good in tight spaces, the opposite of Lukaku.
His lack of a decent touch or close control makes it difficult for Lukaku to get involved in Chelsea’s game, which is why he is often isolated and left to physically battle unproductively with centre-backs.
The solution would be for Chelsea to cede some control and not play with such a high line, instead stretching the pitch and giving Lukaku the space he needs to operate.
This would not only help Lukaku but other Chelsea attackers as well, especially Timo Werner. There is a reason every Chelsea attacker has struggled under Tuchel: this system requires them to be near-perfect at all times, as limited space means you have to think quicker and make the right decisions every time or lose possession instantly.
Lukaku’s best moments for Chelsea have been when he had some space to run into, this was evident right from his debut against Arsenal, that bulldozing run right through the helpless defence to score.
Three of Lukaku’s five Premier League goals for Chelsea this season have come in two games against Aston Villa because Chelsea’s inability to pin them back ironically gave Lukaku the space he needed to wreak havoc.
It is imperative that Tuchel starts being more intentional about playing to Lukaku’s strengths or he may soon see the other side of Roman Abramovich. A Champions League trophy does not guarantee immunity at Chelsea; just ask Roberto Di Matteo.
Soon the club may have to choose between their £97.5 million striker with over four years left on his massive contract or the 15th different manager of the Abramovich era, and that will not be as difficult a choice as you think.